Yesterday, we observed that dreaded Spring ritual of daylight saving time – moving the clocks forward an hour. Most states observe it, and we comply, but it is not a popular exercise. Seasonal changes will eventually bring more daylight, but this practice jumpstarts that process – often at a cost. Some people grumble about the loss of sleep. Others complain about the disruption of their daily schedule – especially if they forget and end up running an hour behind all day. Polls show that a majority of people feel that Spring and Fall time changes are outdated and unnecessary.
While we may dismiss this change as a mere cultural inconvenience, there are natural reasons for the feelings of disorientation. A science called Phenology – the study of the seasonal timing of life cycle events – documents how plants grow, leaves emerge, and migratory birds start nesting again. These cycles are driven by light and energy from the sun. Temperature and light decrease in Fall – plants and animals go dormant. Spring brings a rise in light and temperature, bringing back plantlife and migratory animals.
Natural organisms in general adapt to these changes, well, quite… naturally! Even human beings have an internal mechanism for adapting to environmental changes – our circadian rhythm. But our structured lives don’t always accommodate gradual changes, and a sudden time shift takes us even more out of sync with the natural changes around us. Medical science has documented the fatigue and sleepiness caused by sudden time shift, whether it’s daylight saving or jet lag.
The solution? Light – and more exposure to the outdoors! Light is our principal environmental cue for how our bodies react – it triggers the suppression of sleep-inducing melatonin. Even artificial light can help, but finding a way to get out into natural light is best. Take some time and notice the changes going on outdoors around you. Nature has remarkable systems for adjusting to seasonal environmental changes – with or without daylight saving.